As the government prepares for the end of the national state of disaster, a flurry of directions, codes and regulations dealing with the various aspects of the pandemic were published between 15 March 2022 and 23 March 2022 to ensure the ongoing regulation of Covid-19 related matters.
This includes draft regulations relating to the surveillance and the control of notifiable medical conditions – an Amendment Bill published in terms of the National Health Act on 15 March 2022 by the Department of Health, say legal experts at law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr.
“At the onset of the pandemic in 2020, the Department of Health classified Covid-19 in a category for the most serious notifiable medical conditions. Other medical conditions in this category include cholera, yellow fever and smallpox.
“Although Covid-19 is not specifically mentioned in the draft bill, the new regulations may be targeted at increasing the country’s vaccination rate against Covid-19,” Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr said.
The Draft Bill states that: “Any person with a confirmed or suspected case of a notifiable medical condition may not refuse to submit to mandatory prophylaxis, treatment, isolation or quarantine in order to prevent transmission”.
In addition, those who have a confirmed case of a notifiable medical condition may not refuse to have a blood sample taken or be taken for quarantine, the firm said.
The presidency announced that 60% to 80% of the population has some form of immunity to the virus, either from previous infection or vaccination. However, only 48% of adult South Africans had received at least one vaccine dose, falling short of the target of an 80% vaccination rate.
The Draft Bill states that a full vaccination certificate or a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken 72 hours from departure would be required for people leaving the country and people who test positive for a notifiable medical condition prior to their departure out of the country, can be subjected to mandatory quarantine.
If a person refuses to quarantine or go to a site of isolation or quarantine facility as directed, a court order must be obtained to compel such a person to quarantine.
Another notable change sought through the Draft Bill relates to face masks and social distancing. The draft bill proposes to make face masks mandatory in public spaces, shops, certain workplaces and in public transit as part of the general measures instituted to contain the spread of notifiable medical conditions that can spread through droplets or aerosol.
Employers will also be required to take special measures for employees with comorbidities to prevent them from being infected by a virus.
The provisions of the Draft Bill are not exclusively aimed at Covid-19 but rather all communicable diseases, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr said.
“However, there are concerning contradictions arising in respect of Covid-19, in particular, having regard to other regulations published recently, such as the Adjusted Alert Level 1 Regulations published on 22 March 2022 announcing relaxed regulations regarding the requirement to wear a facemask in certain circumstances.”
“As Covid steadily becomes more endemic, the thrust of regulatory change appears to focus on a life after the disaster, while the Draft Bill is the odd one out expressing sentiments in conflict with the Adjusted Alert Level 1 regulations published on 23 March 2022.”
The public has a period of 30 days to comment on the Draft Bill, which will lapse on 14 April 2022.